Trail Smoke Eaters make statement at BCHL Showcase

All 16 teams played two games over three days to kick off the 52nd season of BCHL hockey.

It was a good bus ride home for the Trail Smoke Eaters as they picked up three of four points at the Bauer-BCHL Showcase on the weekend at Prospera Place in Chilliwack.

All 16 teams played two games over three days to kick off the 52nd season of BCHL hockey.

After suffering a tough 4-3 overtime loss against the Langley Rivermen Friday, the Smokies rebounded with a decisive 6-2 win over Cowichan Valley Capitals on Sunday, avenging an 8-1 loss to the Capitals at the same Showcase a year ago.

“We played well the first game, there were some calls against us at wrong times in the game, and they end up scoring in overtime,” said head coach and GM Bill Birks. “But I was pleased with our game and after being on the bus all day and playing in front of all the scouts, I was real happy with the one point.”

The first match was a see-saw battle with the Smokies trailing 3-2 in the waning minutes of the third, but Jake Kauppila tied it on the power play after a nice setup from Jesse Knowler.

However, a late Smokie penalty would open the door for Langley captain Mitch MacLain who fired a shot past Smokies’ goalie Adam Todd 22 seconds into the overtime period.

Knowler started the scoring at 6:23 of the first period with assists going to Kauppila and Bryce Knapp. The Rivermen replied in the second, scoring twice and taking the lead into the third, but Smokie captain Adam Wheeldon answered when he banged in a Scott Davidson rebound to tie it at 2-2.

However, Brendan Kearney would score his second of the night at 11:09 to put Langley up 3-2 before Kaupilla tied it, forcing overtime. Langley outshot Trail 29-25, with Trail going 1-for-2 on the power play, and 5-for-6 on the PK.

In the second match against Cowichan on Sunday, newly acquired forward and former Capital, Travis Stephens, netted the winner 10 seconds into the second period to make it 3-1 Trail, while Bryce Knapp and Braden Lamont each scored twice and Dustin Nikkel got his first win as a Smokie, stopping 36 of 38 shots for the victory.

“Both goalies, Todd played really well on Friday, and Nikkel was really good Sunday,” said Birks. “We’ve got two really good goalies in here and it gives our guys some confidence that’s for sure.”

Cowichan struck 19 seconds into the first period, but the Smoke Eaters would dominate the rest of the way counting six straight before Cowichan ended the scoring at the 11:30 mark of the third.

Lamont netted the first two markers for the Smokies before Stephens, who was acquired from Coquitlam last week, made it 3-1. Knapp then popped in his pair before the period was out, and the Trail tandem of Jake Lucchini and Riley Brandt set up Valik Chichkin on the power play to make it 6-1 Smokies 4:54 into the third.

The solid defensive effort and ample offensive output is a strong indication that the Smoke Eaters will indeed compete for a playoff position in what will be a fiercely competitive Interior division race.

“I think we have four pretty deep lines, there’s no real all stars, you know we got to score by committee,” added Birks. “We got goals from our third, second, first line, a couple defenceman, it was an all-around effort.”

Penticton went 2-0 with wins over Victoria Grizzlies 2-1, and Alberni Valley Bulldogs, 3-2, while Vernon defeated Surrey Eagles 7-3 with Trail natives Craig Martin and Dallas Calvin each getting a goal and an assist. The Vipers tied the Chilliwack Chiefs 1-1 and former Smokie goalie Lyndon Stanwood was named first star for a 42 save performance for the Chiefs while Kurt Black, who played for the Beaver Valley Nitehawks last season, netted their lone goal. Merritt won once, Salmon Arm lost both games, but picked up a point in a 5-4 OT loss to Victoria, and West Kelowna dropped both its matches.

“There’s no week teams in the league at all,” said Birks. “I don’t think any one team is going to run away with it, but there won’t be any teams left in the dust either.”

Trail will have a tough test in it’s first two home games against the Penticton Vees on Friday and Saturday at the Cominco Arena at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s actually good to play Pen twice this weekend. We are going to watch some video and focus on what Penticton does and practice that all week and hopefully we’ll get a good crowd in here on Friday night.”

Trail also hosts Merritt on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.